Line and Color vs. Painting Styles

July 7th, 2008 | Posted in Freelancing

Detail of a “line and Color” illustration for MAD

Detail of a painted illustration I did for a recent magazine cover

Recently I got into a debate with a fellow illustrator about the wisdom of having more than one “style” of artwork that one would actively peddle to possible clients. This fellow was adamant that it was the smartest way to get greater amounts of work and also to appeal to a broader audience of potential clients. I disagreed. I’ve blogged about this subject before, where I told the story of meeting cartoonist George Karn, who also was a multiple-style advocate.

He was quick to point out I actually did have two styles I marketed… one a “line and color” and one a painted style. I again disagreed. I believe there is a difference between offering multiple different styles and offering the same style in different mediums.

It’s always been my belief that it is best to establish a solid, recognizable identity as an illustrator… that way art directors understand what you do and what they are getting when they hire you. Some people take that as meaning you do the same thing over and over again. That is not what I mean. I mean that you create an identity as an artist, and whatever medium your artwork is created in does not change that identity. Many artists work in more than one medium and have more than one “style” of finished art, yet maintain a consistant identity beneath those different approaches. It’s mostly about drawing and presenting your view of the world to the viewer. A Jack Davis inked panel is as instantly recognizable as a Davis as one of his rich, sumptuous watercolor paintings. Same vision, different mediums. Al Hirschfeld also did a lot of painted, color work which is just as “Hirschfeld” as his line art was. Working in different mediums can accomplish the goal of appealing to different clients without changing who you are and how you draw.

For years I’ve been trying to develop a fully painted style of caricature illustration to compliment my “line and color” style, and for the same reasons my friend recommended multiple styles… to get work from clients who did not like the line and color look. The line and color technique, or as I call it my “MAD” style since I developed it for MAD, does not appeal to a wide number of art directors. It was a comic book/cartoon feel to it, and comic book style art is not very well recieved in the illustration world outside of very specific projects that call for it. Large entertainment magazines like “Entertainment Weekly”, “People” or similar prefer either very graphic caricatures like David Cowles, artsy, avant-garde ones like Steve Brodner or fully painted ones like C.F. Payne or Roberto Parada. A few artists like John Kascht walk the razor’s edge between paintings and cartoons, but their styles move far enough away from a cartoon look to have a different appeal. If I want to be considered for work in those or other mainstream magazines, I’ll need to do more painterly work and try to lose the lines.

I recognized very early I was not ever going to be a Sebastian Kr?¬?ger. I’m just not wired that way. I think and draw in line and need to develop a Kascht-like solution to create a more painted look while still maintaining my natural drawing style. I’ve had limited success with a few jobs over the years. I still look with awe at the painted work of caricature illustrators like Joe Bluhm and Court Jones (see blogroll links on right). I’m still working at it, but I’d like to think that even though I’m approaching the final art differently I’m staying true to my style of drawing. The lines are not entirely gone, but they are softer and less prevelant. It’s a balancing act.

Anyway the point is that there is nothing wrong with constantly exploring new mediums and applications for your work, but you need not compromise yourself as an artist by trying to be someone else. Be yourself.

Here are some more examples of a few more painterly pieces I have done in the last few years:

For New England Journal of Medicine

Magazine cover done in PhotoShop…

Detail of a painted piece I did for MAD…

Another MAD painted piece…

Full image of that cover partially posted above…

Cover for MAD Kids from a year or two back…

Painting I posted very recently for Supercapers job


  1. paulcapurso says:


    Excellent article, really. I have often thought about this situation as it relates to self marketing. Really enjoyed this and your take.


  2. Vin Altamore says:

    Yes, I believe Art Directors get a bit nervous when an Illustrator works in various styles because they’re not really sure which one they’ll get. There are a few Illustrator’s that work under an alias when marketing a different style so I guess that clears up the confusion…but in any case, these are wonderful paintings Tom!!!

  3. meesimo says:

    Great post! It can be a challenge to grapple with versatility versus consistency of style. It can be a fine line indeed. (on top of not missin ’em!)
    Really diggin the Supercapers paintings, definitely show a new level of Richmondness.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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